Month: March 2014

BOOKS ON LOAN – Contract (Simon Spurrier)

Contract - Simon Spurrier

For this week’s book review, let’s look at a book I’ve borrowed.

Well, borrowed isn’t the word.  Had given to me unbidden.  I have been reading the first Wheel of Time book and so expected not to read this for a while, however, as I had great difficulty getting going with that book and I figured this would be a quick easy read I decided to try this.  It certainly is a quick read, and one that is both hard to put down and hard to want to keep reading.

Contract is a post-modern crime novel with a supernatural twist.  Mostly told in the words of the main character, Contract certainly has its own style.  And an annoying repetitive style it is.

I mean it’s, like, got a verbal hiccup.

I mean it’s, like, got a trick where it repeats a sentence opening.

I mean it’s, like, got to do it over and over.

And that’s just one of the tricks used throughout the book.  Most annoying and repetitive, some effectively subverted later in the book, some just annoying all though.  The sentence opening one, I had particular issues with, as I’ve always had issues keeping my place in a paragraph and so have a automatic reaction to re-reading the same bit twice that took me out of the book.  But that’s just me.  This unique quirk of the main character shared with a secondary character for no apparent reason (and I looked for one).  And that was a problem with some of the tricks.  Some were hidden: his “the job’s done” code phrase relating to his past is never rammed home it’s just there.  So does that mean that the use of “think” instead of “thing” that one time was a clever pun, a momentary reflection of the character being remarked on’s word usage or just a typo.  I ponder this while reading the next couple of pages and realised I wasn’t concentrating on the book.  The style reads almost like a prose version of Bruce Dawe’s Enter Without So Much As Knocking, a poem I loved in High School, but annoying in book length.

A lot of the repetitive, annoying, boring stuff is set up to be just that (at one point the character advices the reader to skip over the next bit) so the later subversion works.  But that doesn’t stop it being repetitive, annoying and boring.

The book also falls for the post-modern trope in modern crime fiction of being down on Hollywood to show “this is real”, but as usually happens falls into the exact same tropes (but invokes the “it’s OK, it’s ironic” trope.)  Our hero tells us how much he doesn’t care about just working away, about one-job-too-many as he shows he really cares, can’t walk away and does what is clearly one-job-too-many.  Of course, the hard, shallow, unfeeling outer-shell is broken down and we are left with the character’s inner nothing.  Usually there’s a least an uninteresting character under the shell, not just nada.

All of the twists were obvious and unsurprising and the fact that the character taking a chapter or more not understanding the twist (while claiming he’s not quick, he’s not clever over and over) didn’t made it an exercise in frustration.  Yes, the character didn’t have all the information we had (even though most of it was from his POV) and as claimed, wasn’t quick or clever, but did have to wallow in not understanding.  He was narrating after the fact, damn it.

There was in the jumbled train-of-thought narrative and the tangents and the return to tangents distracting from the pacing, although the bad-US-documentary recapitulation upon each return grated.

Like most post-modern smarter-than-Hollywood crime fiction constantly telling us how much smarter it is doesn’t make it so.  No matter how often he repeats that no one in this business has ever been caught for being too cautious, being too cautious is often exactly the reason that people in his business are caught.  But also like most post-modern smarter-then-Hollywood crime fiction there’s something compelling about it.  Something alluring about the voice of the character – no matter how annoying – something attractive about waiting for the next twist and turn – no matter how obvious.

~ DUG.

Elmore Leonard - Get Shorty


BOOKS ON MY SHELF – A Game of Thrones (George RR Martin)

A Game of Thrones

Was on my list of book series I wanted to read.  But the list just gets longer as more and more books are added, and few get read.

And so it was when I heard that HBO was making a television series based on the books.  Of course, I found this out because I was looking to see what the next thing coming from HBO would be, and had secretly (maybe not secretly) wanted them to try their hand at science fiction or fantasy.  Give it their quality edge.  So, I released that I’d have to actually read the books.  Time passed, and I became aware the series was about to start and I still hadn’t got around to reading it.  So I set out to buy the books.  Four bookshops it took me to get it and trips all over town.  But I got it.  And managed to remain about 2 episodes ahead of the show (and it was pretty obvious where the episodes where going to end).

But that’s about me, not the book.  A Game of Thrones isn’t your usual fantasy.  It’s not a hero with a sword defeating dragons and finding magic items.  It’s history brought to life in a fantasy setting.  As any fan will tell you you never know who’s going to die next.

Each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character (or rather a different one of a handful of characters).  The ability to inhabit different characters lets you see the world and events in a multitude of ways.  It allows things to be hidden and revealed and conflicting unreliable narrations.  At first when everyone’s at the Stark’s castle Winterfell the books tells the story passing from POV to POV to tell the next part.  But as the main characters separate the story jumps around a bit more.  And although Martin uses the format well, this is where the book really annoys.  Chapters start slow a build to a crucial point, then stop and move on to the next character.  And frustration hits.  You’re not interested in this character’s story right now, and anyway, it’s a bit slow.  You want the hear what happens to the last character.  You can’t skip ahead to the last character’s next chapter – what if you miss an important bit of the puzzle.  But then the current character’s story becomes interesting again and… next chapter.  It’s a trick, and annoying trick to leave the reader wanting more.  And it works so darn well.

~ DUG.

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BOOKS ON TELEVISION – Star Trek: Phase II: The Lost Series (Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens)


As stated before I’m a fan of the roads not taken with science fiction (and have a blog dedicated to it – including an entry on Star Trek: Phase II) and this was one of the first books on the topic I owned.

Star Trek: Phase II: The Lost Series is the second of three “making of” Star Trek books by the husband/wife Reeves-Stevens team (the others being for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: The Next Generation) but the most interesting because it is about a series that was never made.

With interviews and access, the Reeves-Stevens have fashion definitive text on the subject.  Unfortunately, as such, it is also actually defined the subject.  The Phase II name, for example, was in reality a parenthetical usage at best, but used to differentiate between the series (with an actual working title Star Trek II) and other things such as planned movies and the working title of Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn).

That said, it’s really the best book available, probably the best that will ever be available on the subject, so if you’re interested in this lost moment of Star Trek history, I recommend this book.

~ DUG.

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Failure to Launch

THE BOOKS ON MY BOOKLIST – Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert M Pirsig)


Read for Literature of Spirituality.

A semi-autobiographical journey, a philosophical text,  a struggle to get over a previous breakdown, or the account of a descent back into madness?  Or all of the above?

ZAMM can be a life changing read if you come to it in the right mind.  As a prescribed text, on a course with a number of other spiritual texts it can be hard going.  I recall the reaction of many of the other students was to the perceived arrogance of the narrator.  And, sure, you can see that there, but really, that what a philosophical text needs to do.

As the book says: “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive”.

~ DUG.

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